Hyperion

Hyperion by Dan Simmons is a rather interesting book. It is really an analogy of short stories taking place in the same universe, and connected with common narrative. The individual pieces could be read alone, outside the novel without losing to much. You can think of them as flashbacks which help to develop the main characters, give them back stories, and show you different aspects of the portrayed world. Each of them also adds a piece to the over-arching mystery of the planet Hyperion.

Hyperion Cover

This backwater planet lying on the outskirts of the galaxy spanning empire played a key role in the lives of the 7 pilgrims returning to it for the last time as the galaxy spanning is on a brink of devastating world. It is a home to some of the universe’s impenetrable mysteries such as the vast, empty labyrinth of unknown origin underneath it’s surface, mysterious monuments called the Time Tombs which generate anti-entropic field (which evades understanding by modern science) that seems to be propelling them back in time and the almost mythical, fearsome, bloodthirsty beast known as the Shrike.

No one really knows what the Shrike is, since almost no one who have seen it lives long enough to tell anyone about it. But the creature has been also known to grant requests to it’s worshippers who go on a pilgrimage to the Time Tombs and put their life on the line. When the story begins Hyperion is about to be invaded, the Time Tombs seem to be opening and the shrike goes on a rampage decimating the population of the planet. The cult of Shrike carefully selects 7 very special pilgrims and sends them to face the beast.

Since the pilgrimage is a long and ardours trip they decide to share their stories with each other and figure out what exactly makes them so special. Simmon’s takes great lengths to keep each flashback unique by giving it distinct mood, flavor, tone and language. The narrative style shifts quite drastically depending on the subject. So for example the Soldier’s Tale is told by a third person, omnipotent narrator in a very structured and linear way. The Poets Tale on the other hand is first person narrative with flowery (and often crude) language, with many tangents, asides and soliloquies. The end result is a curious but rather interesting mix that offers the reader wide variety of experiences.

The quality of the individual stories varies. All are well written and interesting, but some will definitely stand out and lodge themselves in your memory. My favorite was probably the Scholar’s Tale which was a mix of all the right stuff. Moving story about parenthood, terrible heart wrenching loss, crisis of faith and trying to cope with a mysterious terminal disease destroying life of one’s only child. The Priest’s Tale also made a great impact on me – eerie, disturbing and soaked in mystery. The Soldier’s Tale on the other hand left me cold. I felt like it did very in terms of character development, and the ending killed whatever suspense it managed to build with a rather pointless combat scene. Nevertheless it contained interesting insights to the Outster culture, the organization of military in the human Hegemony, it’s customs and strategies. The Poet’s Tale was good, but in my opinion was a bit jumbled and lacked a disturbing hook or twist evident in most of the other pieces. Still, it provided great background on the history of the Hyperion universe, the destruction of Earth (eaten by a wormhole produced in a LHC experiment btw) and colonization of the planet Hyperion. Even if you hate the main character, you will keep reading it to find out more about the universe.

I did not care much for the Detective’s Tale on either. It was essentially an old-school Gibsonian cyberpunk detective story, complete with the silly notion of cyberspace, scheming AI’s and a murder mystery in the middle of it all. While I do not despise this genre, I’m not a big fan of it either. But once again, while this particular part of the book was of average quality (at least IMHO) it did add new insights to what makes Simmons’ universe tick.

The book is closed with the Consul’s Tale which is a slight departure from the other other tales in the book. The focus is shifted off he planet Hyperion here and revolves around the issues of innocence lost due to progress, colonialism and features an interesting spin on the twin paradox. Instead of twins, however we star crossed lovers one of whom is a shipmate on a star cruiser traveling at relativistic speeds, while the other stays planet-bound. One stays young while the other one ages naturally. Strangely moving and sad piece. It is actually a verbatim re-print of Simmons’ short story which appeared in the anthology “Prayers to Broken Stones” and later became a seed for the Hyperion universe.

If you like a good Scifi with a dash of mystery and touch of supernatural I highly recommend this book. I believe that you will find at least one story inside of it’s covers which will either move you, disturb you or stay with you in some way.

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10 Responses to Hyperion

  1. Steve CANADA Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I loved Hyperion. But a warning…the other books are not so good. The “mystery” is anti-climatic and the writing seems to ramble. Much like Phillip Jose Farmer’s first two Riverworld books…and then the rest go down hill.

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  2. feeshy Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    Ah, Dan Simmons. You’ve just got me wanting to re-read Hyperion. Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion are great books. He also does cheesy horror sci-fi really well and Carrion Comfort and Song of Kali are well worth the read (even though they are light entertainment). The Ilium/Olympos cycle are good too. More recently The Terror is (I think) his best book and is a fantastic piece of speculative historical fiction.

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  3. Mack UNITED KINGDOM Safari Mac OS says:

    I just finished Fall of Hyperion about a month ago, and have taken to using SHRIKE 3000 as a screename. “Shrikes” are actually North American birds which impale their prey on thorns or barbed wire fences ( I got curious about the name when it cropped up in Hyperion as well as in the Mortal Engines series ). Hence the Tree of Pain old Shrikey has.

    The antiquated gibsonian cyberspace bugged me as well, after reading your thoughts on it- Previously I just took it at face value and didn’t think too hard about it at all. Neal Stephensons Diamond Act “Ractives” seem more plausible.

    But anyway. In the second book the Cyberspace notion at once fades and becomes more prominent- The AIs and Technocore play a bigger part as the plot of AIs Vs Hegenomy Vs Ousters, and the mystery of the doomed earth, the origins of the shrike, and ouster/human politics get revealed as the plot unravels. The Cybrspace stops being silly gibsonian Lawnmower man nonsense and instead is simply used as a stage for AIs and Cybrids and humans to converse. There’s a passing reference or so to “cyberpukes” but mostly they fall away and let the AIs take the stage for plot revelations.

    Again, the AIs aren’t actaully evil- They have a mutaul coexistence with with humanity that humans aren’t aware of. The Volatiles in the first book seem completely stupid when the technocores structure is actaully revealed. Although the plot hangs together well, it does seems vaguely forced since it relies on an element barely ( if at all) seen in the first book.

    The second book is a much more straight up description of Ouster Posthuman Politics, and clearing up all the mysteries in the universe backdrop set by the first novel. We get to see more of the hegenomy rulers, the AIs with the eastern philosophical ideals and a particular computer code/haiku style of talking, see teh ousters and snippets of their mindbending, weightless/artificial gravity generated escher landscapes and ultimate bodymod culture, the guts of the shrike church, and people getting cut in half by failing farcasters. As normal, the shrike doesn’t have much to say, but simply Is, which is disappointing, and the end kinda tails off into ambiguity after the Hyperion universe stomping all over itself in a spectacularly predictable but awesome manner.

    But I ramble. Sidenote: Only on one of the later books does Shrikey appear with all four arms intact.

    And I actaully really enjoyed the combat scene. It was satisfying videogamey and mindless after all that braintime spent on mystery.

    ‘Scuse any poor structuring, I’ve been going back and adding bits in wherever.

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  4. Alphast NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    Shrikes are also present in Europe (though we give them other names)…

    This aid, I really liked Hyperion and especially the Priest’s part which is, I believe, a masterpiece in mixing theological and philosophical comments.

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  5. Steve CANADA Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    A few of you mention the Fall of Hyperion…have you read the next two: Endymion and Rise of Endymion?

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  6. Mack UNITED KINGDOM Safari Mac OS says:

    Nah. Fall of hyperions ending was rubbish enough. didn’t wanna ruin the series some more with some new characters- The only ones I cared for in the first place was the Poet, Old Shrikey and the Consul anyway. Besides, the plot ties itself up nicely, I don’t quite see where it has to go from there

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  7. chris GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    when i turn to a new universe i like to absorb it completely. i would feel incomplete if i didn’t read all of it.

    ‘hyperion’, ‘the fall of hyperion’, ‘endymion’ and ‘the rise of endymion’ belong together in my opinion. i’ve read them all. it’s a nice series, so why should i deprive myself of the complete story?

    maybe it is the difference between ‘reading books’ and ‘following an author’ that seperates our opinions here?

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  8. Steve CANADA Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @Mack: I agree, but I actually slugged my way through the next two disjointed pieces of crap. Sigh. I have wasted so much time reading garbage because the first book of a series was so good.

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  9. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    @Steve: That’s what I have heard. In fact most people say that it is best to just read Hyperion and stop there. But I think I will read the Fall of Hyperion just to see how it breaks down from here.

    @Mack: I think I heard about the birds before but I never made that connection. Thanks!

    @Alphast: Very true – I loved Priest’s tale. It’s a great piece!

    @chris: Heh, I’m the same way. I actually bought the Fall of Hyperion already and it is sitting on my desk waiting for me to finish up my current book. Can’t help it – I like the universe and I want to read more of it.

    This is actually what happened to me with Frank Herbert’s books. I read Dune and needed more. Unfortunately the books that followed it did not live up to the original. I loved them nevertheless. Messiah was probably the lowest point of the series. Children was good, God Emperor was trippy (I liked it) and Chapterhouse was decent but it just ends in the middle of things. Too bad Herbert never managed to write a follow up to it. Some people hated these things, but I’d totally keep reading if he kept writing them.

    Fortunately Brian Herbert cured me out of my Dune addiction when he started raping his father’s legacy. Kid doesn’t have a quarter of his old man’s talent but he is milking the Dune universe for what it’s worth. I actually bought one of his “prequel” books, got halfway into it and then hurled it out the window. Seriously – I just threw it out. Horrible stuff.

    So yeah, it is definitely more about following an author rather than the series. Or both. I actually got few non-Dune books by Frank Herbert and they were not so great. There is a review of Hellstorm’s Hive somewhere on this blog. I also started White Plague and put it down because it was pretty much taking 300 pages just to set things up. I’ll probably go back to it at some point and slog through the rest but it was no Dune.

    Anyway, I will give Fall of Hyperion a chance and see where it takes me.

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